Technically, I’m a vegetarian.
Have been for over 20 years.
Pretty much since I was in a position to say “this is what’s going into my body, and this is not, “I’ve taken a left turn at eating anything that used to have a heartbeat.
But when Chef Randy Jones says “try this” and slides a plate of tuna, mussels or duck confit before me, I eat. I am surprised at myself. But I eat. Careful, trepidatious bites.
Delicious, delicate, flavour-filled bites. And I am blown away.
Jones is the visionary hard-working restaurateur behind Pemberton’s iconic Mile One Eating House. (He’s also my neighbour and, for the record, a sometimes client who pays for wordcrafting services in actual cash, not burgers.) Which is to say that when I go to eat there, which I often do, and order the Mile One burger, despite my vegetarian status, it is because it is really freaking good and because, from both our working and over-the-fence relationship, I know enough about Randy to know he is impeccable in his commitment to ingredients and quality and building relationships with suppliers. I can count on him to have sourced meat that I can feel good about eating. And paying hard-earned money for.
And so I do.
This is confusing to people, including my husband, who isn’t sure why our house has been meat-free for two decades yet I will devour a burger at Mile One and stab his hand with my fork if he attempts to grab anything from my plate. But, when I think about what led me away from meat consumption originally, it doesn’t feel strange at all. I ditched meat because I craved intimacy. I wanted to be part of a food ecosystem that empowered and nourished me, not a food chain that viewed me simply as the walking gob with the wallet at the end of the line.
Arguments for vegetarianism run the gamut — ecological, ethical, Buddhist, etc. — but it wasn’t any of that rhetoric that swayed me. It was more a lurking sense that, if I eat something, I should be willing to do some of the work upstream of my plate to get it there. Picking strawberries or making pasta, while not something I do frequently, is something
I’m OK doing. Filleting a freshly caught fish, or harvesting a deer, or decapitating a chicken? Not so much.
If I wasn’t willing to have a relationship with the activities and animals required to source my food, I felt like there was an accountability lacking, and in that vacuum, bad things could happen. Industrial food chain kinds of things. Lose your appetite kinds of things.
So I didn’t.
That intimacy I craved? I felt it, quietly standing around the counters in Mile One’s Market last week.
I ditched meat because I craved intimacy. I wanted to be part of a food ecosystem that empowered and nourished me, not a food chain that viewed me simply as the walking gob with the wallet at the end of the line.
Jones was hosting the first Night Kitchen, an after-dark Maker Series for food-lovers to explore ingredients, learn a few chef’s secrets (you can crisp the duck skin to a lovely golden colour with a blow torch, friends, I kid you not) and eat ridiculous amounts of food, fresh from the grill, which you’ve just watched being prepared.
There were a dozen of us standing around, watching, chatting, tasting, as Jones demonstrated and diced, lectured and riffed on ingredients and ocean currents and why you should be very careful ordering mussels in most restaurants, and plated five courses, one after the other.
In January, Tim Zimmerman wrote a fantastic piece for Outside magazine called “Eating Right Can Save the World.” No pressure, but the way we eat is the single biggest impact we have on our little spaceship Earth. Food consumption is up to 30 per cent of a household’s total footprint.
He suggests, instead of veganism, localism, paleo, clean eating or any other food trend, we aim to simply eat attainably and sustainably.
There’s a reason the best parties happen in the kitchen. Other spaces invite performance, a kind of play-acting. The table setting, the fancy manners, the extraordinary amount of cutlery. But when you eat standing up, or perched on a stool, from something that was alive 10 minutes ago and has just been ladled into your bowl, with fresh bread and real potato chips, there is no fraudulence, there is no distance. It’s attainably sustainable.
And it’s grounding and nourishing and pretty much everything I want dinner to be.
Plus, someone else did the dishes.
This column ran this week in the Whistler Question: http://www.whistlerquestion.com/opinion/columnists/the-wellness-almanac-when-the-best-place-to-be-is-in-the-kitchen-being-cooked-for-1.2173293#sthash.xeSy7xap.dpuf
Because of licensing restrictions, the Night Kitchen is an alcohol-free experience.
Thanks to Hayley Edmondson of Mile One Eating House and Lisa Ankeny of Sumire Design for the images.